September 20, 1999
RE: S&S, 2:12-14 (34-36): Elinor in Continuation
The reason Elinor is hurt for Marianne is that Marianne has allowed the world to think she cares about what such people as Mrs Ferrars thinks. We may take our analogy from children at play who show such things writ large: the child who is teased is the one the other children know can be driven to tears; the child who appears not to care about teasing, appears indifferent, is left alone in peace. Elinor feels that Marianne should know that in trivial nastiness like Mrs Ferrars displays are beneath notice; in their earlier debate Elinor told Marianne she only appeared to obey the world's dictates when they were matters of indifference; she made up her mind about serious matters and took her serious decision without reference to the world's cant. It is feeding the poison of society which twists people to care. So Elinor is hurt for Marianne as she has exposed herself as foolishly vulnerable.
It's worth saying about this scene as we near the end of Volume II: our heroines have both hit a deep nadir. Austen probable does this deliberately as the pattern of 3 volumes for the circulating libraries had already begun to emerge. Elinor's acid tongue helps her out, and she can see clearly where Lucy cannot why Mrs Ferrars and Fanny Dashwood pet Lucy: funny how she can see clearly for others, but until she was actually confronted with Edward's not telling her the truth about why he was distant and withdrawn, she made excuses for him. Yet acid or not, she is losing this battle it would seem as after the musical party, Fanny Dashwood to avoid having Elinor in the house --and how could John Dashwood seriously have thought to have her there near Edward -- hey that's not probable. Hmmm. I am back to thinking how all three of these chapters could easily have been a letter or letters in continuation from Elinor to Mrs Dashwood in Dorset.
On the other hand it seems to me the lines given Lucy are ambiguous in the manner of Henry Crawford's: we are given no insight into what Lucy really thinks. I suggest she is herself using the invitation to wear Elinor down. She may see as clearly as Elinor that she got said invitation only because the Dashwoods didn't know about her engagement; nonetheless, the invitation is a stick to beat Elinor with, something to depress Elinor's hopes, and give her some of her own. The scenes at the end of this volume would then repeat some of the feel at the end of the first volume when Lucy told Elinor about the engagement and claimed she and Edward deeply love one another when she knows they do not. Why? To scare Elinor away, depress her spirits, as a stick to beat her back with.
Edward knows that Elinor knows. That's why he is so embarrassed. In the movie Hugh Grant did get a lot of exquisite awkward comedy out of it (Miramax 1995 S&S). It is true we are not told that Edward knows for sure, but Lucy's dig about engagement is exquisitely anguishing for Edward too. Marianne, every obtuse to so much but her own feelings, misses all of it . Thus Marianne doesn't understand that her words gouge a deep hole into Lucy because one way of reading them is that Edward stays with Lucy only because he is so honorable. And indeed Lucy's and Edward's silence and Elinor's way of writing the whole scene up shows all three understood Marianne's words this way. Remember Marianne has yet to be told of the anguish of Elinor's heart (that comes in the first chapter of the third volume after Nancy spills the beans to Fanny).
I suggest perhaps in the original 1797-98 S&S there was a letter in which Edward was told that Elinor was told. This scene between Elinor and Edward is one of the more comic yet painful in the book; the later one where she offers him the position Brandon has is more poignant. Elinor's behavior reminds me of Plantagenet Palliser in Can You Forgive Her?: he too leaves his beloved alone in the room with the previous lover. This was supposed magnanimous in the extreme.
In my essay on the calendar in the novel I suggest the sudden intrusion of the first-person statement by Austen which seems so awkward ("I come now to the relation of a misfortune which about this time befell Mrs. John Dashwood.") is indeed a piece of patchover work. Austen invents this party in order to explain how the Steeles came to be staying with Fanny Dashwood. They have to stay there in order for her to use Mrs Jennings, John Dashwood's and Nancy Steele's wonderful descriptions of what happened when Nancy told the truth. Austen may have had Elinor and Marianne originally staying with the Middletons while in London; that would explain why Mrs Jennings is often not around in many of the scenes in London.
Robert Ferrars is as close to a Fanny Burney as Austen ever gets. Yet is Austen's character not somehow more alive. There is an edge, a grit, an anger to her portrait that Burney lacks. Burney is the less passionate (if you will); its more a game of sheer figures to Burney. Austen is remembering that she has met people really like Robert Ferrars. The entrance of Robert Ferrars and his conversation with Elinor also enables Austen further to characterise Edward. Now we have a sense of his earlier history: again the effect is to deepen our sense of the character.
Finally, I wonder if in the original 1797-98 S&S Colonel Brandon was writing letters to Mrs Dashwood while Elinor was. He would tell of any conversations he had with Marianne. When those letters were omitted, the conversations were omitted. Hence we have so little dramatic contact between Brandon and Marianne as the book now stands.
Cheers to all,